As a teenager, President Andrew Jackson fought the British in the woods around his home in what now is Lancaster County, SC.
Later, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops burned their way through the area.
Were Sherman to return, he probably would do so as a retiree (perhaps in disguise, as his first visit wasn’t popular) to buy a lot in the first Del Webb Sun City retirement community in the central Carolinas.
At the future site of Sun City Carolina Lakes, more than 1,200 acres (486 ha) of Lancaster County timberland is being renewed as a retirement haven of 3,300 homes and possibly 10,000 residents.
Scurry Construction Inc. is leading the development. The Cornelius, NC, grading and utility contractor headed by Bill Scurry is slowly transforming the rugged character of the site, a project that won’t be complete for two more years.
“There’s never been a better time or place for a community for active adults,” a Pulte Homes executive, David Vitek, said at the groundbreaking in June 2005. Pulte merged with Del Webb Homes. “Sun City Carolina Lakes will be a place of energy and life.”
For now, it mostly is a place where lots of dirt is being moved. Approximately 1.3 million cu. yds. (994,000 cu m) of earth have been gouged, scraped, hauled, dumped and repacked since the ground was ceremoniously broken. And only approximately a third of the acreage has been worked to date.
“It’s a real good site, good to work,” said Scurry Project Manager Darrin Albertson. “And then there are areas where you’ll run into some rock.”
Usually, running into the rock with Caterpillar or John Deere dozer blades does the trick. However, where the rock is unmoved by the heavy equipment, it is “popped” and hammered and otherwise loosened for removal, Albertson said. Scurry crews have thus persuaded unknown tons of shale and harder varieties of rock to yield to progress.
Much of the area used to be a hunting camp. It was covered mostly by timber, but patches of pastureland created clearings among the trees and a dozen manmade lakes were scattered through it. Each of these different landscape features requires special handling.
Scurry subcontracted timber removal to Phillips and Jordan, the Tennessee contractor that got its start a half century ago working timber in Robbinsville, NC, before branching off into more general construction work. Slightly more than half of the site was covered by hardwoods and pine.
Moving in ahead of the Scurry crews, Phillips and Jordan operators stripped away most of the tree stock, exposing gently rolling terrain with peaks and valleys rising and falling perhaps 15 or 20 ft. (4.6 to 6 m).
“It’s not a flat site,” Albertson said, “but it has pretty good topo.”
Working the soil until it’s just the way Carolina Lakes architects want it to lie for streets and building sites is a task for Scurry’s experienced heavy-equipment operators. At the busiest times, 55 company employees are working the project.
They scoop up rock and earth using John Deere 450, 370 and 330 trackhoes and dump it into the beds of Volvo A25 and A30 articulated dump trucks. At one point, 10 dump trucks were hauling material at once. All of the soil is staying on site to ensure the contractor can meet future fill needs.
Elevated areas that simply need to be slumped into adjacent depressions are leveled by a dozer fleet of DR6 and D5 Caterpillars and 650, 750 and 800 John Deeres. Volvo L70 and L120 wheel loaders handle loosened soil and material.
By and large, the company operates with Cat, John Deere and Volvo equipment.
“They have been the most dependable,” explained Albertson. Besides, he said, “We don’t like to mix it up too much for the mechanics.”
Licking the Lakes
Most of the dozen lakes on the property had their dams reworked. Two of the earthen structures needed major remodeling to bring them up to an acceptable standard; one was done away with entirely and the lake water drained. Still another lake was shrunk in size.
Rented pumps lowered lake levels in each case so the dams could be reworked by dozers and excavators. Because the reduced volume of water jeopardized the lakes’ population of bass, crappie and other freshwater fish, licensed fish handlers were contracted to move them. In the process, some 12-lb. bass were spotted, Albertson said.
The project is being developed in sections. Pods A through E have been contracted separately and pod F is being priced out now. To date, Scurry has successfully bid each section. The Carolina Lakes project is a large one for the company, Scurry said, “but the phasing makes it like any other Pulte job.”
Scurry said his company is benefiting in this project from a relationship with the Pulte team of developers that extends back several years. “This created a great deal of trust on both sides, knowing that everyone was accountable.”
The phasing-in process has streets and home sites in the project varying from pod to pod. Pod A has a main road running through it, for example, with two cul-de-sacs and a pair of spur roads jutting from it. Arrayed along these roadways will be homes ranging in price from a quarter million to a half million dollars.
Utility lines serving these residential properties are being laid by Scurry crews. Eight-in. (20-cm) sewer lines run to the home sites, with trenches sometimes reaching 16 to 18 ft. (4.9 to 5.5 m) in depth to maintain the slope of a line. Albertson said more than 18,000 linear ft. (5,490 m) of the line have been run so far.
Twice that much storm drain has been put in to serve the first five pods of the development. And water lines already in the ground run to more than 39,000 linear ft. (11,900 m), with 14,000 ft. (4,200 m) of that being 12 in. (30 cm) in diameter.
Rocking the Roads
Roadways running off the main boulevard are being shaped and prepped by Scurry crews. The grading work is fine-tuned using global positioning system (GPS) equipment. Machinery that is GPS-equipped include three dozers and an excavator. Two rover packs augment the survey effort.
Curb work has been subbed to Theresa’s Concrete, a Salisbury, NC, firm. Theresa Richardson started the company in 1997. Carolina Lakes’ pod E is a typical contract for her company and in that section alone, Richardson said her crews used a Powercurber to form more than 5,000 ft. (1,516 m) of 24-in. (60-cm) curb.
In the first five sections of the project, approximately 72,000 sq. yds. (57,600 sq m) of asphalt have been laid between the curbs of the auxiliary roads.
Albertson credits the company president with keeping the project moving despite a scarcity of materials, especially following the hurricanes of last summer that knocked some Gulf Coast plants off line.
“He saw the writing on the wall,” Albertson said of Scurry. “He made all the right moves to make sure we weren’t going to run out, mostly of plastics [pipes]. He kind of made a run on the bank and bought the material we needed.”
Scurry simply said the company was “very lucky that our supplier had the material in stock.”
After the storms interrupted the flow of construction materials, contractors were left to scramble. Coupled with the rise in crude oil prices that reached a record high in April, the bottleneck was a real test of managerial vision. Scurry passed it as well as anyone.
“He stays in tune with the market,” Albertson said of the company president.
Scurry now employs in his company more than 100 people, a 10-fold increase from when he incorporated the firm in 1995. The turn-key sitework company began with Scurry; Gail Scurry, secretary/treasurer; and William P. Scurry Jr.
Albertson signed on a couple of years ago after 10 years in the industry, mostly in the Atlanta, GA, area. William Scurry is the other project manager.
The company limits itself to projects 50 mi. in any direction from Charlotte, NC. The Sun City development lies 25 mi. (40 km) south of uptown Charlotte between U.S. 521 and the Catawba River.
Besides the river that runs along the development’s edge and the lakes that are situated among the future homes and the development’s 18-hole golf course, one other water hazard is on the property: a wetland.
“A common person wouldn’t call it a wetland,” Albertson said, “but it’s deemed to be one. So we have to handle it with a little bit of care.”
Normal placement of culverts to channel the flow of water was not allowed, of course. Solutions to preserving the environmentally sensitive area are “a little tedious,” the project manager acknowledges, “and tend to impact the schedule of work a little.”
But that is about all that has slowed the work. Sunshine, fittingly enough, has been the rule at the Sun City construction site. CEG
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